Orcas and Ecotourism

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How much of our fascination with orcas is too much? How many boats, how much underwater noise can they take? At what point, given the dwindling salmon supply, are the whales either going to leave this area permanently or gradually succumb to the environmental stressors and just die off?

CWR 2009 Photo by Erin Heydenreich

No one knows. And that is the problem.

We do know that they are endangered locally, and their survival depends upon our ability to figure it out and set sustainable guidelines…compromises between our desire to watch them as they live their lives as wild, free, and peaceful animals and their ability to cope with us. And in these rotten economic times, we do have to take into serious consideration the businesses and individuals that rely upon the income generated by whale watching tourism. But the whales may not be able to endure it much longer.

In previous posts we have discussed how our resident orcas are constrained in their movements by where they can find salmon, and how the geographic and oceanographic features of the area put the orcas so close to us as they forage. They really can’t get away from our boats and noise without leaving. And for them to look elsewhere for food means acquiring a new culture, new ways to hunt fish and to find each other for mating. And still, we would dog them wherever we spotted them because they are so enchanting to us.

The government proposes to give them a break in one small part of their range while we figure it all out – while we learn how much the orcas really can tolerate – and we concentrate on restoring salmon stocks.

We’ll just have to adjust, adapt to new rules, and take the long view. After all, they have been adapting to us for centuries.

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